Phrases like “we can keep this on the down-low” or “we don’t have to tell anyone about this” were constantly said to me when I entered therapy for the first time in seventh grade. I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was twelve years old, and each time I started consistently going again, I was told the same thing. Now, I understand that therapy and the topics that are discussed in it are sensitive issues that people may not feel comfortable talking about, and that is okay. However, these sentences maintain the stigma against therapy and can inadvertently create feelings of shame for seeking help. Therefore, instead of telling people to keep therapy a secret, we should applaud them for recognizing they need help and seeking it out; let’s normalize discussions about seeking therapy.
I think that in the steps to normalizing discussions about therapy, sharing our stories about seeking help should be one of them. I was diagnosed with anxiety as a toddler, but I was able to manage it by talking things out with my mom. I didn’t enter therapy until I was a preteen after experiencing anxiety with school. I channeled all my competitive energy into academics and grades. The more I did this, the more I started to define my self worth based on the numbers on my tests and report cards. Making a 92 a 93 or even a 94 was not enough for me; I was not satisfied until my grades were 95 or higher. As a result, my anxiety became unmanageable, and it was time for me to seek help outside of my family. When I went to my first therapist, the few people who knew told me, “It’s okay if you don’t tell your friends about this.” I surrounded myself with an academically competitive friend group, and the idea of keeping quiet almost made me feel like seeking help was a form of weakness. I was already self-conscious around them, and I thought my mental health state put me below them. I became hyper-aware and sensitive of little details in my therapy sessions. I remember being upset that a sign outside the office said “psychotherapy” and asking my mom if that meant I was “psycho” or “crazy.”
Luckily, the more I went to therapy, the more comfortable I became, as I realized that attending these sessions helped improve my mental health. However, I’ve gone through periods where I stopped attending therapy and then reentered after receiving another diagnosis or experiencing a significant life event. After a hiatus during my sophomore year of high school, I reentered therapy after being diagnosed with depression and ADHD. Once again, I was told, “you shouldn’t be ashamed for seeking help.” While this is true, the statement still seemed backhanded. I entered therapy again in my junior year after experiencing the stress of preparing for college applications and having my world turned upside down after my best friend decided to cut me out of her life with no explanation at all. I then entered therapy again the summer before college as I experienced an identity crisis because high school was over. Most recently, I just reentered therapy a few months ago as Zoom fatigue and the stress of the pandemic caught up to me. Needless to say, therapy has become a significant part of my life and maintaining my mental health.
Just a few years ago, I probably would not have had the courage to write an article such as this one. Within the last few years, I’ve noticed that mental health has become an increasingly important issue in society whether it be jokes people make about their depression or more serious conversations. Seeing these posts and discussions have made me realize that it is important to share our stories about not only mental health, but also therapy because acknowledging an issue is one step, but seeking help is a completely other step.
As we start to normalize this second step, I recommend we change the way we respond to people entering therapy. Rather than saying things like “you don’t have to tell anyone,” say encouraging phrases such as “that’s so great you are going, you are going to help yourself so much.” These slight changes will help people feel more comfortable with going to therapy and talking about it. The more people talk about going to therapy, the more we can encourage others who are still too afraid to do so.
If I could talk to 12 year old me, I would tell her that going to “psychotherapy” or any therapy at all does not make her crazy or different. Going to therapy is good for your well being and there shouldn’t be any shame in talking to someone. It does not matter how big or small an event or phase in your life is, it can still hold significance and it is healthy to talk about it with someone. You don’t even have to be going through a crisis to go to therapy. Sometimes, it is just great to talk about everyday life or share news with someone outside your standard circle, and it can help prevent you from getting to a super dark state if something in your life happens or changes. Don’t be afraid to go to therapy, and don’t be afraid to talk about it because taking care of your mental health is nothing you should ever be ashamed of.